By Christina Sawyer

Local Relay for Life Coordinator

Relay for Life, Ely event 2014 was certainly among our most successful years, but that doesn’t come as a surprise to the 25 women who have been working diligently since last September to make sure every detail was covered. Months of brainstorming, meetings and researching other successful events all came together this past weekend as we gathered to celebrate our local cancer survivors and bring awareness to this dreadful disease.

With your help, we aren’t just fighting one type of cancer – we’re fighting for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. Each person who shares the Relay For Life experience can take pride in knowing that they are working to create a world where this disease will no longer threaten our loved ones or rob anyone of another birthday.

Our community had 21 teams who in turn had 395 participants each have been out there fundraising and bringing awareness to their neighbors, coworkers, friends and family. Their efforts raised an incredible 80, 000.

This money will be used to find answers that will save lives – from changes in lifestyle to new approaches in therapies to improving cancer patients’ quality of life. No single nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization in the US has invested more to find the causes and cures of cancer for more than 65 years.

The 18 hour Relay Event was preceded by a celebration dinner held at the Ely Elks Hall for our local survivors. Survivor Barbara Jirak sang Wind Beneath My Wings and as a true survivor she overcame technical difficulties with equipment and sang on, proving nothing could stop her from sharing those inspiring words with her fellow survivors. Tina Bear, survivor spoke on the importance of family and friends support during the battle, reminding attendees to lean on those around them.

Our community consistently proves their generosity, I can’t think of a single business in town who didn’t show their support whether it was by digging a hole in the park for a tree in remembrance of our survivors, picking up the tab for the survivor dinner, sponsoring a team for the event or by making sure we had a park and potties at the site, they had us covered. An event this size wouldn’t be possible without the support of its community.

The event kicked off with the Survivors Lap. During the Survivors Lap, all cancer survivors at the event take the first lap around the track, celebrating their victory over cancer while cheered on by the other participants who line the track. We also recognized and celebrated caregivers, who give time, love, and support to their friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers facing cancer.

As the sun set we moved on to our Luminaria Ceremony. This is our opportunity to remember people we have lost to cancer, honor people who have fought cancer in the past, and support those whose fight continues. Candles are lit inside of personalized bags and are placed around the Relay track as glowing tributes to those who’ve been affected by cancer.

We quietly trudged on through the night, knowing that our efforts reminded those around us that we will not sleep until a cure is found. These efforts were rewarded with a sunrise breakfast hosted by our local Lions organizations.

Fueled, we moved forward with our Fight Back Ceremony. This emotionally powerful ceremony inspires Relay participants to take action. The Fight Back Ceremony symbolizes the emotional commitment each of us can make in the fight against cancer. The action taken represents what we are willing to do for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for our community to fight cancer year-round and to commit to saving lives.

In May 1985, Dr. Gordy Klatt walked and ran for 24 hours around a track in Tacoma, Washington, ultimately raising $27,000 to help the American Cancer Society fight the nation’s biggest health concern – cancer. A year later, 340 supporters joined the overnight event. Since those first steps, the Relay For Life movement has grown into a worldwide phenomenon, raising nearly $5 billion to fight cancer. While the American Cancer Society is making progress toward a world without cancer, only with your dedication and fundraising efforts can we finish the fight against the disease. Supporting events like this will help make this a reality.